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VOL. 127 | NO. 80 | Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Craft Brewery on Tap for Edge District

By Aisling Maki

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A new microbrewery has its sights set on Memphis’ Edge District for a September opening.

High Cotton Brewing Co. – which its partners say will be housed in a Monroe Avenue property, though a contract has yet to be finalized – will join Boscos and Ghost River Brewing in bringing locally crafted beers to the Memphis market.

The company recently filed its business license, according to The Daily News Online, www.memphisdailynews.com.

“We’re trying to formulate recipes that are very well-crafted and flavorful, and more geared towards the craft drinker – that’s our goal,” said partner Mike Lee, owner of Mid-South Malts, a homebrew shop at 741 N. White Station Road. “We anticipate being very customer-friendly. We want to craft beers that people really want to drink.”

Lee is one of five partners in High Cotton Brewing. In addition to a silent partner, Lee joins Brice Timmons, an attorney with Black McLaren Jones Ryland & Griffee PC; Ryan Staggs, an engineer with Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division; and Ross Avery, a pilot with United Airlines.

“The beer business is hard to break into,” Timmons said. “Usually the hurdles are legal hurdles, technological hurdles or financial hurdles. We have kind of a bizarre array of partners that make this uniquely possible. I’m an attorney; Ryan Staggs is an expert in energy and water, which are pretty much what you need to make beer. And Ross is the guy who pulled everybody together and made it all possible.”

According to Timmons, Avery several years ago acquired a complete operating brewing set-up from a small brewery that was closing. He showed up at the auction to find he was the only bidder.

“He bought the stuff, having really no plan,” Timmons said. “He just threw the cash down on the table and said, ‘I’ll take it.’ He loaded it all up in the truck and put it in storage here in Memphis until he could find partners.”

About a year ago, Timmons and Staggs, who were tentatively looking into opening a brewery with some other potential investors, were introduced to Avery through Lee. When the trio decided to forge ahead with the project, they subsequently asked Lee, who has more than three decades of brewing experience, if he’d be willing to join them in business.

They wanted a business moniker that evoked southern imagery. Both Timmons and Avery grew up on rural cotton farms just north of Memphis, while Lee’s father was in the cotton business, so the name High Cotton seemed like a perfect fit.

“Most microbreweries eschew any sort of regional affiliation in favor of just being part of the global, or at least American, craft beer community,” Timmons said. “We really wanted to do something that was more of a southern roots kind of craft beer movement. The South maybe doesn’t have a long history of beer brewing; we might be more famous for whisky. But we do have a long tradition of very earthy, local home-cooking, and there’s no reason that beer can’t fit into the same type of category.”

High Cotton’s goal is to produce small quantities of well-crafted beer that will be distributed only to local bars and restaurants.

“We think that the people who’ve already expressed interest – Midtown and Downtown locations – are probably going to consume everything we’ll make. … This is a labor of love for us. We’re not intending that any of us will go get rich in the beer industry, although we certainly wouldn’t be opposed to it.”

Opening a fully stocked brewpub is a huge capital investment, so the partners hope to instead take a cue from other cities and open a taproom, which would sell only High Cotton products and during limited hours, allowing the business to have a storefront and therefore build a strong, tangible community presence.

Timmons said breweries and alehouses can play an important role in the sustainability of well-integrated, walkable neighborhoods.

“They generally encourage community,” Timmons said. “Establishments that serve alcohol for years are sort of looked on as things that a community needs to be protected from; well, we view them as a way of building community. We want to be part of that.”

Timmons hopes to see more breweries follow suit in a city that he says has everything needed to be microbrew hotbed – including high-quality, neutral water, lower utility costs, great transportation and logistics, and unoccupied commercial real estate.

“But we’re not one, and there’s no good reason for that,” he said. “While some water that’s good for beer might have a lot of certain minerals in it, neutral water like ours can be adjusted. You can brew any kind of beer in Memphis, whereas other regions might be specifically suited to one type. We want to see Memphis really take advantage of this wonderful confluence of resources to create a community around this. It’s happened other places, and there’s just no reason Memphis shouldn’t be that place for the Southeastern U.S.”

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